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17th Sep 2012

China paves the way for new Confucius Institutes in India, global demand rising

China will train 300 Indian teachers in Mandarin Chinese under a first-of-its-kind initiative to lay the groundwork for more than 100 Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) schools to introduce courses of the language, as announced recently on TheHindu.com. The Chinese government has offered to cover the expenses, including flight tickets, living costs and tuition, for the 300 Indian teachers to undergo six months of training in top Chinese universities, according to a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the CBSE and the Chinese government. The MoU proposes exchanges of academic staff, teachers and students. Under the agreement, China will also help India develop its Mandarin Chinese language curriculum and provide educational materials. The training will pave the way for the CBSE to begin offering Mandarin Chinese courses in select schools. In addition, 100 scholarships for Chinese language learners from India will be offered annually. In April, the CBSE made Chinese a foreign language subject for middle school students in 500 schools. It plans to gradually promote the study of Chinese in 11,500 middle schools. India’s Ambassador to China Dr. Subramanyam Jaishankar described the agreement as one of “exceptional and long-term significance.”

“If Indian school students are provided opportunities to learn Mandarin,” he said, “their understanding and appreciation of China and its culture will grow enormously. We will truly be shaping the thinking of future generations.”

In speaking of the relationship between the two nations, the Chinese Ambassador to India Zhang Yan explained, "Relations between China and India have entered a fast track in recent years, and as two of the most ancient civilizations and fast-growing economies in the world, India and China should join hands in building a world for future generations." “This agreement is a great event in Chinese education,” said Lin Xu, Director General of the National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language, or Hanban, which also runs China’s global Confucius Institutes programme. “It may take more than 20 years to promote the Chinese language in India. We will work with patience, confidence and perseverance in the next 20 years.” While the CBSE is keen to train the teachers in a six month-long crash course, Chinese officials have expressed concern that the training programme is too short. “We need at least two years to give them training,” Xu said, “but the CBSE says it wants a six-month programme. The teachers will have to be on a very tight teaching schedule.”

Making headway in India

Xu is also the Chief Executive of the Confucius Institute Headquarters, which oversees the 380 institutes China has set up at the university level in 180 countries under a global “soft power” push. Recently, China has been making progress towards its ambitious target to attract 500,000 foreign students by 2020. She said China was keen to support any Indian university that was interested in hosting a Confucius Institute - the move would be a welcome one indeed, given India's recent stance against expanded foreign university participation. However, two earlier initiatives to host institutes at the Jawaharlal Nehru University and at the Vellore Institute of Technology have stalled. In the first case, procedural differences between JNU and its Chinese partner university, Peking University, derailed the plans after long discussions. VIT runs a smaller language study centre after it faced difficulties in hiring Chinese language teachers. Manipal University in Karnataka, which is keen to open the first ever Indian campus in China, is also in talks with the Hanban to open what would be India’s first full-fledged Confucius Institute. “I hope the existing two Confucius Institutes in India can play an important role for teaching Chinese and to introduce Chinese culture,” Xu said about the status of the two initiatives, acknowledging that “a lack of teachers” was a problem. To address the teacher shortage, the Chinese government is keen to aid the promotion and awareness of the Chinese language, opening a global network in 2004 of non-profit public Confucius Institutes, aimed at promoting Chinese language and culture abroad. There are now 380 Institutes and over 470 Confucius Classrooms worldwide. “We will do our best to cooperate with the Indian Embassy to send as many teachers as we can,” she said. “If other Indian universities want to host Confucius Institutes, we will do our best [to help] because we see BRICS countries as a priority.”

Growing global interest in Mandarin

As the fourth largest country in the world with the largest overseas migrant population, China is home to the most spoken language in the world - Mandarin Chinese - and this latest push in India is an example of an ever-growing demand from all corners of the world’s educational landscape to train non-native Mandarin speakers. As UK NARIC points out, China’s economic growth, as the world’s largest exporter from 2010 and now the world’s second largest economy after the United States, has elevated demand for the Chinese language, one of the official languages of the UN. Parents, students, teachers and business leaders around the globe represent some of the many groups recognising the importance of Mandarin as the emerging global business language of the future. Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian President, was even reported to have labelled 2010 as the "Year of Chinese Language". In Britain, whilst language courses at secondary school level are no longer compulsory nationwide after age 14, reports actually indicate a wider interest in Chinese language, with a 40% increase in students sitting the GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) exam in Mandarin Chinese since 2002. In 2010, the total number of students sitting the exam grew by 5% compared to the previous year. Similarly in the US, an 18.2% increase from 2006 to 2009 was noted in higher education enrolments for Chinese language courses according to the Modern Language Association (MLA), echoing a 4.7 fold increase in the number of US students studying abroad in China in 2009 compared to 1999. And some schools in the US are going as far as to make Mandarin mandatory, such as a school district in Georgia which has embarked on a bold plan to have all its children fully bilingual — in English and Mandarin — by the time they graduate from high school. In recent weeks, children from pre-kindergarten through third grade began mandatory Mandarin classes, part of a curriculum that in three years will include middle school and high school students.

“Students who are in elementary school today, by 2050 they’ll be at the pinnacle of their career,” the school superintendent Romain Dallemand said. “They will live in a world where China and India will have 50% of the world GDP. They will live in a world where, if they cannot function successfully in the Asian culture, they will pay a heavy price.”

Moving along, the Sindh provincial government in Pakistan has also announced plans to adopt a far more direct approach, making Chinese language compulsory to all students from Class VI (ages 10-11). Editor's Note: In February 2014, it was announced that all public universities in Pakistan will begin to offer Chinese language courses via video conferencing. Across the ocean, Panama has reportedly proposed legislation to make Mandarin classes compulsory in all schools. And finally, the Swedish Education Minister has also expressed similar desires to move towards a less Eurocentric curriculum, by adding Mandarin to the foreign language offering. As China continues to grow as an economic superpower it seems likely that the fashion to study Mandarin will too increase. Although not traditionally an easy language to master, the Chinese Ministry of Education indicates that over 40 million people outside China are currently learning Mandarin and that the number is growing annually.

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